Masaru Takayama, Chair and Founder of the Asian Ecotourism Network, speaks to Gaia Discovery's Mallika Naguran of his plans for 2018 and in shaping a stronger association that promotes responsible tourism in Asia.
SINGAPORE, 10 January 2018. The Asian Ecotourism Network was formed in June 2015 out of exceptional circumstances. At that time, the original board members of The International Ecotourism Society or TIES had resigned from it and formed the Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) instead. Four GEN board members residing in Asia including Masaru Takayama went on to form the regional Asian Ecotourism Network, or AEN.
More than two years have passed since, and a look at the AEN website shows a ready group of committee members as well as ordinary members who have a common goal - to form a like-minded community that comes together to boost ecotourism based on the highest sustainability principles, create networking and business opportunities among members, information sharing, and more.
AEN is showing results with a few collaboration at a regional scale. What has AEN achieved since its formation? What can tourism players in Asia Pacific hope to see arising from AEN in the year ahead?
Gaia Discovery catches hold of the very busy Chairperson, Masaru Takayama, who shared some developments of AEN and opinions of the uptake of sustainable tourism in the Asia Pacific region.
Can you give us an update on the legal and membership status of AEN?
AEN is now a fully legalised registered trade association in Thailand. This will change our membership category and strategies that will be discussed during our next AGM on 19 January 2018 in Bangkok. There are presently around 40 individuals and companies as members of AEN.
Are you looking to have more members join AEN ? Is this one way for tourism and travel operators to learn more about sustainability? What are the critical areas that AEN and Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) can address effectively with its membership base and how?
We certainly would like to see more members but we would rather have active members who can engage with us to do projects together. Many operators do already know what responsible tourism (RT) or sustainable tourism (ST) is, so what is more important is not WHAT, but HOW to be more sustainable or responsible and to measure the positive differences made in the results. GEN is not a membership organization and does not have the membership category nor the fees, while AEN is independent in its operation though we are positioned as a regional umbrella of GEN. AEN would like to start holding workshops or training in the region to combat the false claims or 'green washing' while identifying the true good practitioners and destinations with the support of the policy makers.
What were some of AEN developments in 2017?
We started the AEN eNewsletter beginning April 2017. As for the rest, they ranged from cooperation among members to representation of AEN and the Asian ecotourism market at international shows. Allow me to list them down for you.
Jan 14: Albert Teo (AEN Vice-Chair) representing Borneo and Ary Suhandi (AEN Member) representing Indonesia agreed to jointly collaborate on the Heart of Borneo (HoB) ecotourism programme at the Malaysian-Indonesia border at Ba-Kelalan Borneo. The two, together with Sandra Tagal, were recently invited by WWF Indonesia to work on HoB ecotourism programme.
March: AEN was at ITB Berlin to promote ecotourism in the region
April 23-28: 11 AEN board members were invited to participate in the Taiwan Ecotourism Association (TEA) AGM and International Firefly Symposium, where we also gave a talk
May 29-June 1: AEN members attended the Subic Ecotourism Festival with GEN board. AEN and International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) signed an MoU on establishing ISST as an AEN satellite office in the Philippines.
Oct 30: Ary Suhandi and Masaru Takayama explored a project collaboration at ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta
Nov. 1-3: AEN members were at Indonesia's International Conference on Sustainable Tourism and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Emerging Destination Workshop
Nov. 19: AEN was at the Asian Bird Fair in Ulsan, South Korea
Dec. 9: Masaru Takayama delivered a talk on AEN and Japan Ecolodge Association at the 10YFP ST annual conference in Kasane, Botswana
Who have been the major partners who have supported AEN and how?
AEN so far has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with GSTC and Green Destinations. We are also working to play an important role in 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme that UNWTO and UNEP promote. We will be working more closely on a regional level with ASEAN as well as on a national level like DASTA for Thailand and ISST for the Philippines. We also are communicating closely with World Tourism and Trade Council (WTTC).
What are your thoughts about destination certification in light of Indonesia being committed to GSTC accreditation of a few of their destinations? Should more Asian countries follow this path? Or are there other approaches?
We certainly welcome the movements that Indonesia is committed to deliver. It should also be replicated in more countries in Asia and beyond. However, often the governments are not the best practitioners to work with the tourism industry and the communities. AEN would like to fill in the gap for more effective implementation of the projects.
What would you like to see happening with AEN in 2018? What more is needed to build a stronger association?
I personally see that we already have a very good team on the board, but we may need more financial injection to be fully capable of what we intend to become. We just gained our legal status after two years and we hope to work with people and governments who value our capability and ability to bring about sustainable societies through tourism.
Read an earlier interview with Masaru Takayama and other experts on Asia Pacific Ecotourism Trends & Sustainable Tourism Development